Grumpy people are made

Those who are heartless once cared too much.

There is a beautiful movie called ‘Spirited away’ which has a lot of little messages that may be lost on us if we don’t notice too closely. There is a character called ‘No-Face’ or Kaonashi whom nobody understands. He is a spirit who has some unfulfilled desires and tries (futilely) to fulfill them. There is a bath in the spirit world where spirits come to bathe and relax and when he comes here, they don’t understand him and in their blind greed for the illusory gold that he offers to them, they just try to appease him with more material offerings. No-Face is a naive spirit who does as he sees. To fit in with the world, he does as he perceives the world to be. So, seeing the selfish, corrupt and evil nature of the spirits at the bath-house, he becomes just like them. Notice that this is his perception of how everyone is and may not be the reality (which is demonstrated well in the movie).

Enter Chihiroour protagonist. She is a little girl who doesn’t understand why everyone is so fixated with him and his gold. When nobody is able to satisfy No-face and when he eats one of the spirits in a fit of rage, she offers to help him. So, he offers her some of his gold. But she refuses it and for the first time he feels the power of kindness. This changes him. He loses all the corrupting influence and regurgitates all the things that he had eaten (He is a monster who eats everything up) and becomes obsessed with Chihiro. Chihiro is scared because she knows that he is dangerous, but she still treats him kindly and even asks him nicely if he would want to accompany him on her travels.

Chihiro with No-Face

Chihiro is the little girl and the masked spirit is No-Face. The shadow is a random spirit.
Notice how No-Face is sitting quietly? That is because Chihiro had asked him to ‘Behave himself’ :)

Such is the effect that Chihiro has on him, that No-Face, a dangerous monster, becomes benign and even starts to listen to her commands. He eventually meets Zenibaa witch who asks him to help her with her spinning. He agrees and finally finds salvation on being useful to someone.

So what exactly is the point I am trying to make through this story?

It is often said that everybody is a victim of the situation that they are in. I would like to go further and stress that grumpy people are even more so and they deserve our sympathy and kindness the most. Our first reaction to a grumpy person is to keep away from them. What we don’t understand is that doing so, only makes them grumpier.

They are not bad people. Neither are their character traits irreversible. They are grumpy because life hasn’t been fair to them. Now you may say that the universe doesn’t give a damn and that life isn’t fair to anyone. But, you will agree that all said and done, there are people who have been dealt a really bad hand by life.

Some people are very good looking, some are incredibly intelligent and some are both. Yet, there is a vast majority of others who haven’t got anything going for them, or have a little of everything, but not enough to stand out. Such people will go through life facing rejections, failures and a heap of other ‘almost there, but not quite there’ moments. They will work hard to stand out but they will be overshadowed by a more charismatic and genetically lucky competitor. Not just in work, but also in affection. Often they will work hard to gain the affections of someone, only to find that they are already smitten with someone.

A lot of stories have been written and a lot of movies have been made on this phenomenon. But, they haven’t been able to make a dent in their favor. They are still out there – bereft, forgotten and bitter. What else could one expect when one understands how unfair it has been for them? Yet, we don’t know about it and we expect them to be happy and content.

So, instead of the love and attention that they crave, they get hostile looks of ‘behave yourself’. This makes them bitter. It makes them grumpy. These grumpy men are carrying a burden on their shoulders. Some of them have been spurned by the person they loved, some have been denied the recognition that they deserved, some have been cheated and taken for granted by people that they called friends and a lot of them have a few basic human desires of being loved and valued that have remained unfulfilled for a very long time. Long enough to manifest themselves in really ugly ways. Something in which these people have played no real part.

What does it take for them to break out of this? What does it take for them to become the caring fathers, sons, brothers, husbands etc that they are? Just a little bit of love. A little kindness. Exactly the type of love that Heidi shows to her grandfather. Love that allows him to overcome his bitterness and warm up to her and life in general. Exactly the type of kindness that Chihiro shows to No-Face. Kindness that lets expunge the darkness within him and be at peace.

People are not born grumpy. They are made grumpy. Thankfully, it is not an irreversible change.


  1. I feel a fair amount of ambivalence to this post. At one end, I am profoundly and acutely aware of the grumpiness phenomenon, both in myself and in a few other “sample specimen”. So I kinda sympathize that yes there are people who have been dealt a really bad hand by the arbitrary poker dealing of the Universe. And yes that phrase you used “almost there, but not quite there” is beautifully accurate in terms of describing the reason for a lot of grumpiness. So close yet so far kind of thing. But then again, hey it’s not as simple as everything can be solved by external kindness and external empathy. That helps a lot I think – supportive friends/family and a good networked support structure of like minded people would sure go a long way, and is a tremendously motivating factor I am sure. In fact yes, there’s a need for greater sensitization for the general public towards people who might appear grumpy or depressed. Removing the stigma and promoting empathy is never ever a bad thing after all.

    But let’s face it – no amount of externalization can solve what is at the very core – an internal and ingrained problem somewhere deep in the mystical confines of the Human Mind. That’s where I diverge with you. The answer is a bit more complicated than just a reservoir of empathy and patience and tolerance from external sources. The answer, if one exists, is to combine the good-will and Samaritan Spirit of supportive people around you with your internal self-realizations, self-actualization and self-evolution, all leading to a deeply internal and ingrained sense of determination and resolve to deviate from the grumpiness. In the absence of that internal resolve, one cannot budge or move, no matter what the external situation or incentives are. And that internal force is rather mystical, beyond the vocabulary of logic, rationality, science or empirical observation – at least at the moment.

    And let’s also face it that the nature of consciousness and the human brain’s capacity for complex good and bad thoughts – despite much progress, is still very much currently beyond the realm of scientific understanding. We still don’t know what to make of deeply disturbed or deluded people, but we do know that Schizophrenics and people suffering Halucinations cannot be cured by external empathy or kindness alone.


    1. Hey but all that said, I loved the way you introduced the movie and its characters and weaved in your own thoughts thereafter. The writing is crisp, simple and nice. And the flow’s great.

      I am just a bit conflicted about the content of the message. Trust me, I want to badly believe it, but I fear that would mean abdicating personal responsibility for each of our respective grumpiness/happiness. If you know what I mean.


      1. Thank you very much :)

        I don’t blame you for being skeptical about the message. The message is very idealistic and dare I say, naive. I feel that people should be responsible for their own well being, but at the same time, I take this post to highlight that there is no evil but that which the lack of empathy creates. I guess you already hit that home with your previous comment, so yeah.


    2. I agree that its not simple. But I was just trying to be a little romantic. Perhaps I got carried away. Nevertheless, point noted :)


  2. PS: And I am real curious about that Japanese movie now :P … Thanks for an unintended movie-reco to this movie connoisseur! :)


    1. You’re most welcome :)

      Might I also suggest Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the valley of the wind from the same director, Hayao Miyazaki? :D


  3. Anish Vyavahare · · Reply

    It is a disturbing movie, to say the least. I had watched it a few years ago and it was not a run of the mill thing. Yet, I understand the points you made. It is an underrated and under-watched movie, definitely.


    1. Disturbing you say? Hmm.. perspective.


      1. Anish Vyavahare · · Reply

        Yups… It was animation, it had a kid protagonist and magic and dragons, but it definitely was not a kid’s film at all.


        1. That’s how it is with most Anime. It’s not for kids. This cartoon == kids is a western concept. The Japanese don’t think like that.


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